Friday, July 30, 2010

Cubans Turn to Marriages of Convenience for Citizenship


Cubans Turn to Marriages of Convenience for Citizenship - Part 2
By Gonzalo Ortiz*

QUITO, Jul 29, 2010 (IPS) - Cuban nationals can be found every day at
the busy corner of Amazonas and Naciones Unidas avenues in the
Ecuadorean capital, where the National Civil Registry Office is located.

Hundreds of weddings between Cubans and Ecuadoreans have taken place in
the building. In addition, people from Cuba have to visit the National
Civil Registry Office to apply for or renew their national identity
document or "cédula", whether as residents or naturalised citizens.

Under Ecuadorean law, foreigners who marry natural-born citizens of this
country or who can prove that they have had a stable cohabiting
relationship for at least two years with an Ecuadorean citizen can
become naturalised citizens.

This has given rise to a surge in marriages, many of them marriages of
convenience, which end in divorce shortly after the Cuban member of the
couple becomes a citizen.

"In the last few weeks, the number of marriages involving Cubans has
dropped," a National Civil Registry Office employee who requested
anonymity told IPS. "I think they were scared by the reports of forged

He was referring to the annulment of 199 marriages, mainly involving
Cuban men and Ecuadorean women, as well as the revocation of the
national identity documents granted to 170 Cubans. The decision was made
by the left-wing government of Rafael Correa after authorities
discovered that the weddings and identity cards were based on forged

Foreign Minister Raúl Patiño and the government's Transparency
Secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, announced the measure on Jun. 30, when
they also requested the removal and prosecution of two notary publics in
Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

Marcos Díaz Casquete and Julio Olvera Espinoza are accused of certifying
that certain couples had lived together for more than two years. But in
some of the cases, the Cuban citizens involved had been in the country
less than three months.

An investigation by El Comercio, a Quito newspaper, reported that in
nearly all of the cases of forged documents, the papers had been issued
in Guayaquil by two Chilean lawyers who live in Quito. They disappeared
after Roldán first referred publicly to the case on Mar. 30.

The parties involved reportedly paid the Chilean couple a minimum of
2,600 dollars for work visas and 3,500 dollars for Ecuadorean
nationality via recognition of civil unions.

Of that total, 1,500 dollars were paid up front, and the documents were
available within a month.

The investigations by Mónica Rivera, the prosecutor handling the case,
found that none of those involved had even been to Guayaquil or had met
the women who testified that they lived with the men.

"We feel cheated," one of the men involved, who was not identified, told
El Comercio. "We thought things were done here like they are in Cuba,
where you give your papers to a lawyer and he arranges everything legally."

Ecuadorean citizenship enables Cubans to travel back and forth to their
country of origin without having to meet complex requirements, like a
letter of invitation.

According to government figures on the number of entries and departures
by foreign nationals in Ecuador, some 7,800 Cubans are currently living
legally or illegally in this country of 13.5 million people.

Hundreds of Cubans residing here legally are involved in trade, carrying
clothing and accessories back to their home country. They are frequently
seen in busy markets lugging enormous canvas suitcases full of garments.

"The Cubans are really good customers, although they're not buying as
much from us as they did before," Raúl Tipantaxi, who sells printed
T-shirts in the Centro Comercial Granada, a shopping complex in the
historic centre of the Ecuadorean capital, told IPS. He said other
vendors have the same impression of Cubans.

Sales of clothes from Ecuador to Cuba began to surge when restrictions
for visits to Cuba were tightened on Cubans living in the United States.

But in Havana, people tend to prefer clothing items from the U.S., which
they say is of better quality, and now that President Barack Obama has
eased some of the travel restrictions, it is easier to obtain.

To apply for an exit permit in order to settle in Ecuador, Cubans need a
cédula, a work card or student I.D. card, a marriage certificate issued
at least 90 days earlier if the aim is to be reunited with a foreign
spouse, and a letter of invitation.

Because of the pressure to obtain residency papers, there are now Cuban
intermediaries in Quito. A Cuban dressed in a suit and tie and carrying
a briefcase can usually be found outside the National Civil Registry Office.

One morning, IPS saw three women and a man contact him separately in the
space of three hours. They gave him names, I.D. numbers and telephone
numbers of contacts in Ecuador willing to be listed as employers or even
to get married. Cubans who spoke to IPS commented that in these
marriages of convenience, the Ecuadorean partner receives between 500
and 2,000 dollars, which comes on top of the lawyer's charges.

The intermediary serves his clients right there, on the sidewalk. He
works with at least four other Cubans, to whom he hands the information
he gets from the Cubans who approach him. The National Civil Registry
Office official who spoke to IPS, watching the same comings and goings,
says he hopes everything is done legally.

The policy of not requiring visas from any foreign nationals is part of
the concept of "universal citizenship" laid out by the constitution
approved in 2008 in Ecuador.

But in a modification of the policy, since 2009, Colombian citizens have
been required to provide a certificate issued in their country and
registered with an Ecuadorean consulate showing that they have no
criminal record.

The new policy was adopted in response to the huge influx of Colombians
forced to flee that country's decades-old armed conflict.

An estimated 300,000 Colombians are now living in Ecuador, 58,000 of
whom have been granted official refugee status by the state. However,
the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
considers that 130,000 other refugee applications should be approved.

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